Amazon sucks now, it’s been such a dominant force in online shopping for so long it has taken for granted its position.
Because of this, some of its key advantages have started to degrade, opening up space for competitors to beat Amazon at its own game.
Amazon’s biggest mistake was to allow fake products to flood its marketplace, often outcompeting and removing legitimate ones.
In fact, Amazon even had business policies in place that indirectly encouraged the fake product epidemic.
But there are other reasons why the Amazon of today isn’t as good as the Amazon of a few years ago and why competitors have started to catch up with it.
6 reasons why Amazon sucks
For the past several years Amazon has had a severe issue with fake or knock-off products, to the point where it’s hard to tell if what you are buying is legit or not.
This counterfeit product issue is infuriating when it happens to electronics or clothes, but at least you can return the product and get your money back.
However, fake products turn become dangerous if you buy personal items such as shampoo or toothpaste, with some giving an itchy or burning sensation to the skin.
Food is another major category where it’s best not to risk purchasing on Amazon.
To make matters worse, there’s a chance you will get a counterfeit product even if you purchase it from a 100% legitimate, branded seller.
This is because Amazon stores products in its warehouses using a system called commingled inventory.
Basically, both counterfeit and legitimate products are lumped together by Amazon in their warehouse and stored in the same containers.
Because of this, buying products becomes a lottery: if you’re lucky, you get the legit product, if you’re unlucky you get the fake one.
This might sound absurd, but Amazon has been doing business this way for many years now. This commingled inventory issue is so bad, Apple warned users that 90% of “official” Apple chargers sold on Amazon are fake.
Here’s a slightly more in-depth explanation of commingled inventory, that also tackles Amazon’s (insufficient) efforts to combat the fake product issue.
Fortunately, there are some ways to spot fakes on Amazon, such as https://www.fakespot.com/.
Amazon’s search is bad
Even if you have a trained eye and can spot fake product listing among genuine ones, you will still have a big problem navigating Amazon’s poor search function.
Some of the problems include:
- Product listings not showing product price.
- Filters resetting when switching from page 1 to page 2.
- When using price filters, you’ll still see some products outside your price range.
- Sponsored but unrelated products appear in your search.
- No country of origin tag, so you don’t know where the product is coming from.
Finally, Amazon’s search is simply not that good at prioritizing products. Sometimes, the product you want is buried under 40-50 other listings, you really have to dig in through the useless stuff to find what you want.
Amazon’s search can be so bad, it’s sometimes better to just do a Google search to find the right product.
Fake and untrustworthy reviews
Another issue plaguing Amazon is that reviews on the platform are often misleading and not relevant to the quality of the product.
For instance, you have the standard fake reviews by sellers who want to make their products more appealing. You can spot these a mile away since the reviews have 5 stars but paired with some minor complaints about the product that wasn’t the manufacturer’s fault (“damaged during shipping” etc).
Even if you have the good habit of only looking at 1-star reviews you still won’t be able to get a clear picture. This is because sellers can remove negative reviews in a number of ways:
- Report a review as abuse.
- Email an Amazon support rep and argue with them that the review is unfair for X,Y and Z reasons.
- Outright bribe the user who posted the negative review with a free offer product or something similar.
Below is an email of a user who got bribed with a solar charger in exchange for removing a negative review:
No seller will ever try to remove a positive review, however all of them will try to remove negative ones.
Using the methods outlined above they’ll be reasonably successful in removing quite a few negative reviews.
With each removed negative review, a seller will gradually increase the average “review score” of a product, and make it seem much better than it actually is.
Sellers can even falsify the “Verified purchase” tag. These are reviews made by people who actually purchased the product.
This makes you think the review would be trustworthy but sellers have found ways around this, such as this woman who bought $15,000 worth of products on Amazon, got reimbursed by sellers, and then wrote a fake, positive review for each product.
Then you also have fake reviewers who go as far as paying and sending actual products to random people, just so they can get the “verified purchase” tag.
Next, Amazon groups together products that seem similar, but are actually different and separate from one another.
Here’s an example:
There are multiple different products in there, but you can’t review them individually. Instead, a review for one product applies to all others as well.
This quickly becomes a problem if each product has different specifications, sizes or functions. Does a good review for product X also apply to product Y? It’s very hard to tell.
Finally, Amazon has a top reviewer badge it awards to users who leave a lot of reviews. While this sounds like a good idea in practice, it encourages a conflict of interest since many of these reviewers are only after the badge, and don’t care if their reviews are truthful or not.
Buying clothes on Amazon isn’t a good experience
Amazon is not a store optimized to sell clothing.
Besides the fake product and review issues, you have to navigate the site’s UI which isn’t built with clothing in mind.
Some of the issues include:
- Very few clothing products mention the height of the model or the size of the clothing item.
- Many clothing items only have 1-2 closeup pictures and too few angles.
- Navigating the clothing section of Amazon requires lots of clicks to find the right categories.
- Clothing styles are all over the place, and it’s hard to find something that fits your style.
You can of course find good clothes on Amazon, since it does have tens of million of clothing items, but it’s a lot of trial and error with lots of bad clothing along the way, much more so than with a dedicated clothing eCommerce site.
Amazon Prime Shipping also sucks now
Amazon Prime’s 2-day shipping policy used to be the biggest draw to make an Amazon subscription, however in the past couple of years Amazon has viewed 2 day shipping more as a “best effort”, rather an actual promise to deliver products in 2 days.
Amazon of course has come up with excuses, such as the pandemic catching them unprepared as online orders skyrocketed. However, things are settling down since then and there’s still no sign the 2-day shipping will become the norm again.
To be fair to Amazon, this doesn’t affect all regions equally. Some have recovered partially or totally, but the problem is widespread enough that many users prefer to cancel Prime since they’re not getting their money’s worth.
At this point, Walmart is rapidly gaining on Amazon and offers close enough shipping times, but without an extra $10 a month.
UI isn’t good anymore
Amazon’s online store works despite its User Interface, and not because of it.
Things such as pages doing a full refresh when adding filters, loading times where there shouldn’t be, buttons that are so small they’re hard to click or touch on mobile devices, opening every single menu and submenu is loads a new page etc.
Does it work? Yes, Amazon’s UI does work. But it’s tedious and unintuitive, and sometimes it feels like work to make the interface do what you want.
Part of the reason for this is because of Amazon’s (now former) CEO Jeff Bezos. Here’s what a former Amazon employee has to say about him and why Amazon looks the way it does:
“Jeff Bezos is an infamous micro-manager. He micro-manages every single pixel of Amazon’s retail site. He hired Larry Tesler, Apple’s Chief Scientist and probably the very most famous and respected human-computer interaction expert in the entire world, and then ignored every goddamn thing Larry said for three years until Larry finally — wisely — left the company. Larry would do these big usability studies and demonstrate beyond any shred of doubt that nobody can understand that frigging website, but Bezos just couldn’t let go of those pixels, all those millions of semantics-packed pixels on the landing page. They were like millions of his own precious children. So they’re all still there, and Larry is not.”
But this general lack of quality UI is widespread to all Amazon products, including Prime Video, Audible etc.
For instance, in Prime Video it’s not immediately obvious if a movie or show is included for free or if you have to pay for it.
In the Audible app, half the menu is built in natively, while the other half of the app is basically a web browser for opening Audible.com mobile pages.
Niche + Generalist Alternatives to Amazon
Fortunately, online retail is a fairly competitive business so there’s plenty of other sites to choose from for your online shopping needs.
This section explores a few, lesser know niche sites. The section after this one will look at big mainstream alternatives to Amazon, such as eBay or Walmart.
Walmart – Generalist store
In the past few years Walmart has invested massively in online shopping and offers a set of advantages that set it apart from Amazon:
- Cleaner, more modern user interface.
- Due to sheer size Walmart can negotiate even lower prices than Amazon.
- Equal, or sometimes better, shipping speed than Amazon since it has far more retail locations to send from.
- Curbside pickup, where you order products online and simply pick them up from Walmart at a designated time.
- Introduction of Walmart+, a free shipping membership with no minimums.
- Creating a Walmart Marketplace, similar to Amazon’s, where small retailers can join and sell their own products.
Amazon might still be the go-to place for online shopping, however Walmart has carved up its own space and is currently an excellent back-up option when Amazon falters.
Ebay – Generalist store
More of an auction house than an online retail store, but it often has unbeatable prices, even for Amazon.
Much riskier than Amazon however, and require more effort in verifying how trustworthy a seller is.
NastyGal – Women’s Clothing
A medium sized online clothing retailer for women that specializes in fast-fashion (meaning, they quickly replicate the latest clothing styles on fashion catwalks).
Clothing styles on NastyGal are rather experimental but it’s a great online store to keep an eye on for new and interesting clothes, especially since prices are kept very low.
Discount Electronics – Cheap Computers, Tablets, and computer parts
Discount Electronics is a small retailer that purchases used computer hardware in bulk, and then resells them at much lower prices.
The products they sell are carefully verified to make sure they are functional, and they offer a 1 year guarantee on laptops and desktops.
buybuyBABY – generalist store for babies & toddlers
A relatively small retailer for baby and toddler products, with less than 200 locations nationwide.
However, they have a growing online presence and carefully filter products and supplier to ensure a certain standard of quality.
Aosom – furniture & hobbies
A small furniture retailer for outdoors, indoors, hobbies and pets. A hidden gem and stands out for its generally lower prices and interesting products not easily found elsewhere.